Rest is an important part of the weekly preparation for every school in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
It’s even more critical this season for Bowling Green, which plays 14 of its first 22 games on the road.
The Falcons already have had two-game league series at Bemidji State and Northern Michigan, and still have weekend series at Alabama-Huntsville, Lake Superior and Alaska (Fairbanks). They’re at UAH this weekend, one weekend after traveling to NMU.
After the UAH series, the Falcons finish the first half of the season by hosting Alaska-Anchorage, visiting Lake Superior, hosting Michigan Tech and visiting Alaska (Fairbanks).
“We’re in the middle of where we really have to manage the rest, just starting the second half of the first half,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said, adding the rest is important both mentally and physically. “The next six weeks, it’s hard. It’s good teams, and there’s travel in there.”
BG also has had a two-game non-league series at Miami, and non-league home-and-home series against Ohio State and Western Michigan. It’s had just one weekend series at home, Nov. 4-5 against Ferris State.
The Falcons travel by sleeper bus for all of their league trips with the exception of plane trips to the two Alaska schools. When traveling by sleeper bus, they leave Wednesday night and return immediately after Saturday night’s game. Under NCAA rules, teams can leave for a road trip no more than 48 hours before their first game.
Bergeron gave the Falcons Monday off after the NMU series and cut what he called “the guts” of Tuesday’s practice to 40 minutes.
“It’s a fine line between getting too loose with your details and your preparation, and wasting your fastball in practice,” Bergeron said. “We want to get the detail and the purpose, and clean things up from a game plan and X’s and O’s perspective, but give the boys enough mental and physical rest.”
The WCHA schedule became even more compacted this season when the league announced in May all playoff games would be played at campus sites. That added one week to the playoff schedule, increasing it from two weekends to three.
That means the playoffs start a week earlier this season, March 3-4-5, which was originally the final weekend of the regular season. The series set for that weekend were moved to the last weekend in February, so BG is hosting UAH Feb. 24-25.
BG was scheduled to play at Alaska (Fairbanks) that weekend, but that series will be played Dec. 16-17. The other four series from Feb. 24-25 also were rescheduled to wherever schools could fit them in.
The switch eliminated an off weekend for BG and comes at the end of finals week for the fall semester.
“I know I’m on these kids a lot and I demand a lot, and that, sometimes, wears people down mentally,” Bergeron said. “That’s not the intention, but that’s part of my role to get more and push for more. Managing all of that is absolutely part of our preparation week in and week out. We need these guys rested, so come Friday night, we’re rested and ready to go physically and mentally.”
The Falcons originally were scheduled to finish the first half Dec. 9-10 at home against Michigan Tech. The players then would have taken their finals the week of Dec. 11 and then headed home after that.
BG returns to action Dec. 30 against the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology at the Huntington Center in Toledo.
The Falcons play nine of their final 14 games at home, including league series against Bemidji, Alaska (Fairbanks), NMU and UAH. Their last regular-season road games are Jan. 25-26 against Ferris.
In February, BG has league series against NMU and UAH, a single nonleague Saturday game against Mercyhurst and an off weekend.
The Falcons haven’t played well overall during the second half the last two seasons, although they won a first-round playoff series to advance to the WCHA Final Five both times.
“Hopefully, we can rest, and then with a bunch of home games the second half, we’ll continue to manage rest and continue to manage practice minutes, and be better,” Bergeron said. “But it’s on our radar, and it’s something we know we have to be sensitive to when it comes to these players’ mental and physical well being.”
IMPACT: Freshman Lukas Craggs has earned a regular shift for the Falcons. The left wing has played in all 12 games, totaling one goal and an on-ice rating of even. The 6-foot, 190-pounder also has killed penalties.
“He’s skating and very physical, just naturally wants to get into people and get after people,” Bergeron said. “We want to take away time and space, and he’s really good at that because of his quickness and his skating. I like the fact he’s on you, and you think you have time and you don’t because he’s there.”
Bergeron said Craggs has “undervalued, underrated skill” and expects him to be a contributor offensively at some point in his career. The key for him is to be become more consistent which is a typical adjustment for younger players, Bergeron said.
“There’s layers to his game,” Bergeron said. “There’s a hockey player in Lukas. I’m excited where Lukas is now and where he can be.”
Craggs came to BG after two seasons with the Youngstown Phantoms in the United States (Junior) Hockey League. He had 17 goals, 20 assists and 203 penalty minutes with the Phantoms.
“He goes north and south well,” Bergeron said. “We want to play the game fast. We want to get in on the forecheck and disrupt things. That’s what Lukas Craggs does. We’re trying to bring a little bit of order to that, knowing it’s hard to say that in the same sentence, knowing you play that hard and that fast. We’re just talking about details.”
COMING ON: Sophomore forward Matt Meier played well at NMU. He had a goal in Game 2 of the series, helping BG to a 5-3 win and a series sweep.
Meier skated with senior left wing Kevin Dufour and senior center Pierre-Luc Mercier in the series. Dufour had a goal in each game, while Mercier had two assists in the first game of the series.
“He had his best weekend … and got rewarded for it with some points,” Bergeron said. “If we can get Matt just to do everything a little bit harder without trying to get him to be somebody he’s not, little harder on the puck, little harder away from the puck, shooting the puck, passing the puck, he’s got a chance to be a good player.”
Meier has played in seven games. He has one assist and on-ice rating of +3.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder played the last 1½ seasons at Omaha in the USHL after starting his college career at Air Force. He played 15 games at Air Force during the first half of the 2014-15 season, totaling two goals and two assists in 15 games.
“He’s a big body. He’s a smart player,” Bergeron said. “I liked where Matt’s game was (at NMU), and he got rewarded for a couple good efforts.”
RETURN: Standout goalie Carmine Guerriero returned to the UAH net last Saturday against Alaska (Fairbanks) after missing the first 12 games under NCAA age limit rules. He originally was thought to have finished his career last season, but UAH appealed and the NCAA granted him a fourth season with the Chargers.
Guerriero’s return should help the Chargers. He had a .925 save percentage in 29 games as a sophomore and a .901 save percentage in 18 games last season.
Senior Matt Larose and junior Jordan Uhelski combined to start UAH’s first 13 games, combining for a 3.60 goals-against average and an .880 save percentage.
Guerriero stopped 23 of 25 shots in his season debut.
UAH: The Chargers are ninth in the league in scoring (2.19 goals per game) and last in goals allowed (3.79). They’re also eighth in power-play conversions (11.1 percent, 7 of 63) and penalty-killing (80 percent, 14 of 70).
Junior forward Josh Kestner leads UAH in scoring with 10 points in 14 games on three goals and seven assists. Junior forward Max McHugh has five goals and four assists in 14 games. The top defensemen is sophomore Kurt Gosselin, who has three goals and five assists in 14 games.
SERIES: BG is 16-4-1 all-time against UAH, including a 10-2 record in their three seasons as WCHA rivals. The Falcons swept UAH at home last season, but UAH earned a split at home to finish the regular season.
HONOREE: Dufour was named the WCHA’s offensive player of the week for his two-goal weekend at NMU.
His goal in the series opener came after two scoring changes. Dufour originally was awarded the goal when it was scored on Friday, but the goal was changed to Frederic Letourneau Saturday morning, But, it was then changed back to Dufour later Saturday.
DRAFT RATING: Forward Evan Dougherty, who is expected to join the Falcons for the 2018-19 season, is a “C” prospect in the NHL’s Central Scouting 2017 draft ratings announced Wednesday.
A “C prospect” is a player who could be drafted in the fourth, fifth or sixth round.
Dougherty is playing for Fargo in the USHL this season, his first full season of junior hockey.
ONE HOUR LATER: Because Huntsville is on central time, BG’s games Friday and Saturday night start at 8:07.